DVD and HD Content Playback
Before we hit the graphs, let's pause and talk about our setup. Both systems' DVD playback capabilities were tested using Microsoft's XBox 360 HD-DVD player. While it's possible to hook a standard DVD drive up to the Asus Atom board, the Zotac system can't use anything but an external USB 2 drive. This fact also precluded Blu-ray tests, which is where Microsoft's drive came in handy. When you check the performance results, remember that USB 2.0 imposes its own CPU penalty on both systems, which raises CPU usage in any playback test. We also ran into compatibility issues along the way—neither PowerDVD 9 nor Windows Media Player 12 will play an HD-DVD disc. We therefore fell back to PowerDVD 7.3 which played both movies flawlessly.
It's not particularly surprising that Cyberlink chose to dump HD-DVD support, but we didn't expect Microsoft would do the same. Windows Media Player 12 is the first WMP version capable of decoding 1080P content, but not if said movie is being played on one of the company's own devices apparently.
Zotac's MAG HD-ND01 handled all of our content tests easily. The gap between the two chipsets in DVD playback under Windows Media Player 12 suggests that DXVA (DirectX Video Acceleration) isn't functioning properly when the player is paired with an NVIDIA card (or at least, not ION.) The other difference of note is the way the Atom 330 performed while actually decoding a DVD. While its CPU usage is slightly lower than Zotac's MAG, doing anything but playing a movie—right-clicking, pressing the Windows button, or attempting to drag-and-drop something—left the system stumbling over itself for a few seconds like a stutterer at a spelling bee.
Finally, we've not made a video quality comparison simply because there's no way to objectively compare the two. The Asus AT3GC-I is handicapped by its 15-pin VGA output, which is blurry enough to ruin any attempt to evaluate the two side-by-side. Playback while decoding VC-1 or H.264 on the MAG was less prone to fits and starts when decoding 1080P than the Intel system was when decoding a standard-definition DVD.